CALGARY – A judge has dismissed an attempt to quash the United Conservative government’s inquiry into whether foreign groups have conspired against Alberta’s oil industry.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Karen Horner says the environmental law firm Ecojustice failed to prove the inquiry was called to intimidate charities that have raised concerns about the industry.
She also says there’s no reason to believe that the political context around the inquiry suggests it’s biased.
“I have considered whether there is a basis to hold that the context of the (order in council establishing the inquiry), its terms of reference and the past conduct of commissioner (Steve) Allan combined to raise a reasonable apprehension of bias and I find that they do not,” Horner said in her decision Friday.
The provincial government and some industry leaders have said Canadian environmental charities that accept U.S. funding are part of a plot against Alberta’s energy industry.
The province has said the plot aims to block pipelines and landlock Alberta’s oil to benefit its American competitors.
Legal scholars and non-profit groups say the inquiry is an attempt to bully and silence industry critics.
Ecojustice had argued in its challenge that the inquiry, a plank of the “fight-back” strategy the United Conservatives touted during the 2019 election campaign, was formed for an improper purpose.
Public inquiries are meant to investigate tragedies or “worrisome matters of public concern,” and the inquiry does neither of those things, the group’s lawyer had argued.
Lawyers for the provincial government said in their written submissions that cabinet is entitled — and mandated — to decide what’s in the public interest and what issues warrant a public inquiry. They also said that questions before the inquiry concern the province’s economic viability.
The inquiry’s final report, already delayed, is due May 31.